Atlanta Braves Trade Talk: Pros and Cons of Dealing Catcher Brian McCann

Ethan Grant@DowntownEGAnalyst IMay 8, 2013

July 27, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann (16) hits a three run home run in the fifth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The free-agent era in professional sports has produced a conundrum of sorts that the Atlanta Braves are about to have to face with free agent-to-be catcher Brian McCann

McCann, a 29-year-old who is a six-time All-Star, a five-time silver slugger, has 154 career home runs and a career .279 batting average, just returned to Atlanta's lineup from the disabled list for the first time this season. In two games back with the club, he has just one hit in eight at-bats. 

Don't expect a slow start to diminish his long-term value. 

There aren't any substantial trade rumors surrounding McCann right now, and Ken Rosenthal responded to a Twitter follower with a callous answer about the possibility of McCann moving from Atlanta to a new city this season:

However, his place as a free agent in the winter and his status as one of the game's best offensive catchers will have general manager Frank Wren's phone ringing off the hook in the weeks leading up to the 2013 MLB trade deadline. He'd be foolish not to at least entertain offers privately. 

CBS Sports' Jon Heyman wrote on Monday that the Braves were likely not going to be interested in McCann as a long-term option at the position, largely because he will command a high salary and youngster Evan Gattis has performed well in his absence so far this season. 

Heyman's sentiments don't directly link McCann to a trade, but the age-old question persists: Would you rather miss out on some production but gain long-term prospects in a rental deal for another team, or have McCann for the rest of the season and a stretch run and lose out on any kind of return this offseason?

Andy Martino of the New York Daily News noted on Tuesday that his hometown Yankees would likely be one of a number of teams interested in adding catching depth when the deadline approaches, and there's little doubt others will emerge when injuries, lack of production, etc. all hit. 

So, for the Braves, what are the pros and cons of dealing a guy like McCann? Let's take a look below. 

Pros of Trading Brian McCann

Well, for starters, McCann's production has slipped over the past few years. 

Martino noted as much in his column:

But at 29-years-old and returning from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, McCann will be a free agent at an awkward time. His OPS has declined each year since 2008, dipping below .700 for the first time in 2012, when he played through the labrum tear and batted a career-low .230, with a .300 on-base percentage. 

That being said, there's likely still going to be a market for his services both during the 2013 MLB season and when and if he's officially a free agent this offseason (per Martino):

So many teams -- the Yankees included, who have a nice little right field porch ready for the lefty-hitting McCann -- need catching. Last month, one Mets official was discussing the possibility of using a (pre-ankle injury) Travis d’Arnaud as a trade chip, and I said, “what would you do at catcher?”  The guy’s eyes lit up when he mentioned that McCann would be a free agent.  That’s not to suggest that McCann will actually become a Met; it’s to say that baseball men still like him.

It's important to remember that McCann is still in his prime, and that he is one of the best offensive catchers in baseball when healthy. Buster Posey has clearly stolen his thunder in the National League, but there aren't many teams who would say no to 20-home run, 75-RBI power in the middle of their lineup. 

So far this season, Gattis has made McCann expendable with his play, too. 

Gattis has splits of .250/.540/.894 through 100 official at-bats, and it seems that he's only going to get better at age 24. His versatility allows manager Fredi Gonzalez to change up lineups and play him in the outfield, first base and at designated hitter in American League ballparks, and he's a cheaper option at catcher who already has seven home runs in his rookie season. 

Additionally, the Braves would be able to leverage McCann's production and his place as a starting catcher against any return they would get in a trade, and that could attract Wren to a deal to a team looking to make a late-season push toward the postseason. 

Although Rosenthal suggests that McCann will not be changing uniforms this season (and he's probably right), it's foolish to suggest that it won't be at least a possibility. That being said, let's look at the cons of a move to send McCann packing. 

Cons of Trading Brian McCann

While Gattis has been stellar so far this season, he's also a rookie. Rookies don't always have a track record of being able to sustain long-term success, specifically when you factor in at least 100 games of wear and tear behind the dish. 

McCann gives Gonzalez three catchers (with Gerald Laird) to use throughout the lineup and in situations to avoid taxing any of his backstops with respect to a postseason run. 

Coming off an injury, there's no way Gonzalez will want to rush McCann back, either, and it will be hard to get an accurate gauge on his progress until about mid-June. When that time hits, a strong push from McCann at the plate will make it hard to trade him elsewhere. 

One problem that exists by auctioning off McCann to a "contender" is also prevalent in any scenario: Would you be helping a team beat you by sending McCann their way for prospects?

The Los Angeles Dodgers are a team that would benefit from added depth behind A.J. Ellis, but Wren wouldn't deal in-league for prospects when L.A. figures to be his toughest competition. I doubt he would want to send McCann to an NL Central foe, either, and inner-division trading is out of the question. 

Move to the AL, where the New York Yankees are the most obvious team in need of catching help. The Yankees have survived this season without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, and adding a guy like McCann might help put them back over the hump when the injured players all return. 

Atlanta's place as a contender simply makes it too hard to discern which team might come back and bite them in the rear with McCann in their lineup. 

Lastly, how much are you really going to get in a potential trade?

Personally, looking to a trade like what the San Francisco Giants made for then-Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence would be a good gauge of negotiations (h/t ESPN). A minor league catcher, pitcher and a major league rotation guy (Nate Schierholtz) was the rake for Philadelphia, and the move paid off for San Francisco in the World Series. 

However, with McCann being a free agent this offseason, the price tag is going to dip significantly. Teams won't pay top dollar for a catcher poised to test free-agent waters, and that could affect any and all conversations teams have with Atlanta about its starting catcher this season. 

The writing might be on the wall for McCann this offseason, but it doesn't have to be right now. The lack of trade rumors surrounding McCann even after Gattis' hot start should tell you that Atlanta is in no hurry to make a move and still might not be even if McCann can't get going this season. 

Things change daily in baseball, but for now, consider McCann safe—at least until we see what his production is going to be like this year. 

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